George D. Wallace, a versatile actor whose career ranged from starring as Commando Cody in the film serial “Radar Men from the Moon” to playing leading roles in Broadway musicals, has died. He was 88. In an acting career that spanned more than 50 years, Wallace played character parts in about 80 films, including “Submarine Command,” “Lifeguard,” “Nurse Betty” and “Minority Report.” He also made more than 125 TV guest appearances, ranging from “Hopalong Cassidy” and “Four Star Playhouse” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Joan of Arcadia.”
Wallace, a Navy veteran, was tending bar in Hollywood in the late 1940s when gossip columnist Jimmie Fidler discovered him singing to the jukebox for tips and helped launch his career in show business. Wallace had made only a few small appearances in films and on TV when he went up for a character part and landed the starring role of Commando Cody in the 1952 motion picture serial “Radar Men from the Moon.” Film historian Bob Burns told The Times this week that while “Radar Men from the Moon” is “definitely not one of the better serials,” it is a cult favorite among serial fans. As Cody, the brilliant scientist, Wallace donned a leather jacket, a bullet-shaped, silver helmet and an atomic-powered rocket pack with a simple control panel on his chest: One dial said Up and Down; a second dial said Fast and Slow; and a third dial said On and Off.
He was filming a small role in the science-fiction film “Forbidden Planet” when a casting director heard him singing between scenes and introduced him to Broadway composer Richard Rodgers. Wallace made his Broadway debut appearing with opera star Helen Traubel in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Pipe Dream.” The singing actor went on to replace John Raitt in “The Pajama Game” when Raitt left to co-star in the 1957 film version of the hit Broadway musical. Wallace also played the male lead opposite Gwen Verdon in “New Girl in Town,” for which he was nominated for a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. He also played opposite Mary Martin in the Broadway musical “Jennie.”